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Local Government in England outside London

On December 3, 2018, in Legislation, Local Authorities, by PeterSilverman


The Local Government Act 1972 split the country outside Greater London into metropolitan counties  and non- metropolitan counties each divided into districts.  For every county  and every district there was to be a council – county councils and district councils (both are  principal councils).  The split of functions between the 2 tiers are different in the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. This regime still exists in some non- metropolitan counties aka shires. However in …


All of the metropolitan county councils were abolished in the Local Government Act 1985. Their component metropolitan districts took on the powers of their county councils. Some of the powers are exercised through county-wide joint authorities. The counties still existed even though their councils had been abolished. Then in …

1995 – 1998

Following the Local Government Act 1992 the County Councils of  Berkshire,  Avon, Cleveland, Hereford and Worcester and Humberside  were abolished and their subsidiary districts, such as Bristol, became unitary authorities.

To preserve its status as a royal county Berkshire remained intact in spite of the abolition of its county council and the creation of six unitary authorities. 

The Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995 abolished the county of Avon and dissolved Avon County Council. It set up a new county called the City of Bristol comprising the existing district area of the City of Bristol. It was deemed that Section 2(1) of the 1972 Act (which provides that every county shall have a council) should not apply in relation to the county of the City of Bristol. So Bristol, and the other unitary authorities set up at the time, are counties without councils and districts with councils.

In other counties the county councils were retained but some of their districts were hived off as unitary authorities. Then in ..


Five of the remaining shire counties took over the functions of their districts to become unitary authorities.

The Shropshire (Structural Change) Order 2008  made Shropshire council  the sole principal authority for Shropshire, created a new district whose area was co-terminous with that of Shropshire to be named Shropshire, abolished the subsidiary district areas and dissolved their councils. So Shropshire is a county with a council and a district without one.

In Bedfordshire and Cheshire, the powers of the county council was absorbed into a significantly reduced number of unitary districts.

The Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 set up a new non-metropolitan county and a new non-metropolitan district, each to be known as Central Bedfordshire, comprised (in each case) of the areas of the districts of Mid Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire. Section2(1) of the 1972 Act did not apply to the county. So, like Bristol, Central Bedfordshire is a county without a council and a district with one.


Current position’s Local government structures classifies local authorities under one of the following 5 types each with their unique set of responsibilities:

  • county councils
  • district councils
  • unitary authorities
  • metropolitan districts
  • London boroughs

County councils (27) are the upper tiers in remaining council / district council 2-tier arrangements. They are responsible for: education, transport, planning, fire and public safety, social care, libraries, waste management and trading standards.

District councils (201) are the corresponding lower tier authorities. They are responsible for: rubbish collection, recycling, Council Tax collections, housing and planning applications. *****

Unitary authorities (55)  provide all of the above services. They include the 5 shire counties that became unitary. Legally these are still counties with a council and districts without a council. The remainder were district councils or amalgamations of district councils. Legally they are counties without a council and districts with a council. ****

Metropolitan districts (36) cover 6 large urban areas i.e. the counties of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, and West Yorkshire. They are solely responsible for all services in their area apart from certain conurbation wide services such as fire and civil defence, police, waste disposal and passenger transport which are provided through joint authorities. They are sometimes referred to as being unitary.  Legally they are districts with councils in counties with no council. *****

London Boroughs (32) and the City of London are responsible for education, housing (some aspects), local highways, social services, Libraries, leisure & recreation, waste collection, waste disposal, environmental health, revenue collection. *****

While the Greater London Authority takes responsibility for housing (other aspects), passenger transport, highways (TfL Road Network), Police and fire services..

Local authority names can be confusing.  Northumberland County Council is a unitary authority while Derbyshire County Council is a county council. Some metropolitan and other district councils and unitary authorities include “City” or “Borough”in their titles. These have a largely ceremonial / historic significance.


Duty to keep highways clear of litter

**** these authorities are responsible for the ensuring the highways in their areas are kept clear of litter (Environmental Protection Act S89(1)) with the exception of motorways and those trunk roads on the Highways England network where HE has that responsibility. See Who is responsible for cleaning this highway.

A list of councils by type can be seen here.

Map of English local authorites

Wikipedia’s Unitary Authorities of England which includes a list showing how each such authority was established.

Wikipedia’s Non-metropolitan county gives a useful history of the evaluation of the current regime

Peter Silverman
27th February 2019



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